A bit of warmth and we all go bananas!?

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Bananas could replace pota­toes in warm­ing world’ – a head­line from the BBC (the British Broadcasting Corporation), which is not usu­ally noted for over-hyping a story, but which on this occa­sion is a little sen­sa­tion­al­ist. However, it does relate to a Policy Brief authored by Philip Thornton, entitled ‘Recalibrating Food Production in the Developing World: Global Warming Will Change More Than Just the Climate’. Produced by the CCAFS (Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security) group of CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research), it deals with aspects of ‘food secur­ity’ and looks ahead to 2050 and con­siders the agri­cul­tural ‘adjust­ments’ that may be neces­sary to cope with cli­mate change and feed­ing the pro­jec­ted 9–10 bil­lion people on the planet.

Among its find­ings are that cli­mate change could lead to crops from the banana fam­ily becom­ing a crit­ical food source for mil­lions of people, and the fruit might even replace pota­toes in some coun­tries. (The report also con­siders the present and future roles of yam, mil­let, cas­sava, chick­pea and cowpea. But, as less-widely known crops – in the so-called developed world at any rate – they’ve not caught the media’s atten­tion in the same way as the more famil­iar bana­nas and pota­toes.) Understandably, the sug­ges­tion that bana­nas might ‘replace’ pota­toes has drawn vari­ous com­ments, but prob­ably none more suc­cinct than, ‘Bananas replace pota­toes? Hell will freeze over first!’ from a Mike Jackson on the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog. Surely, not that Mike Jackson (Founding Chief Editor of our sis­ter journal AoB Plants)? But at least it presents an altern­at­ive – if some­what extreme – scen­ario to the more usual one-sided notion of global warm­ing!

Now, I like banana; I also like potato, but which one is bet­ter? There’s only one way to find out: Fight! And since the gen­omes of both potato and banana have recently been sequenced, it’s up to the crop developers to battle it out. But one thing in favour of bana­nas, you can eat green ones – indeed Renata Zandonadi et al. show that gluten-free flour can be made from what is nor­mally shunned as a ‘sub­product of low com­mer­cial value with little indus­trial use’, with health bene­fits, for example, for those suf­fer­ing from coeliac dis­ease (an autoim­mune dis­order of the small intest­ine). But you shouldn’t eat green pota­toes. And you can appar­ently use a banana to fix a scratched DVD.  So, ‘High Fyffes’ all round? (http://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​H​i​g​h​_​f​ive)

(For more on aspects of food secur­ity, don’t for­get to check out the November 2012 issue of the Annals of Botany, which has a Highlight sec­tion fea­tur­ing eight papers that exam­ine vari­ous aspects of breed­ing for improve­ment in for­age and grass spe­cies – Ed.).

(For a typ­ic­ally altern­at­ive view on the bana­nas vs pota­toes debate, check out the daily mash – P. Cuttings, Junior.)

(For more on an ‘altern­at­ive Mike Jackson’, visit his blog – M.J.)

Nigel Chaffey. ORCID 0000-0002-4231-9082

Nigel is a botanist and full-time academic at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany he contributes the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international botanical organ. His main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way...) about plants and plant-people interactions.

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